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March 22, 2018

USDA loan pays half of Brunswick Landing solar project's cost

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
USDA Maine State Director Timothy Hobbs talks to the press after Wednesday's announcement that the department's Electric Loan Program is loaning $1.5 million to Diversified Communications to help pay for the 1.5 megawatt solar project on the Brunswick Landing campus.
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Fortunat Mueller, of ReVision Energy, left, talks to Ted Wirth, CEO of Diversified Communications, and Oakley Dyer, corporate vice president of the company, at Wednesday’s announcement of a USDA loan to help pay for the solar array at Brunswick Landing that ReVision installed and Diversified owns.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has invested $1.5 million in the new solar array at Brunswick Landing, part of its mission to improve the life of rural Americans, USDA Director Tim Hobbs said Wednesday.

The 4,500-panel solar array went online in December, and is part of the Midcoast Regional Development Authority's plan to make the 3,200-acre Brunswick Landing campus 100% sustainable.

"This is a pretty exciting project," said Tom Brubaker, MRRA public works and utility manager to those gathered Wednesday to hear the announcement. "It's a milestone in making this an energy self-sufficient campus."

The loan to Diversified Communications, which owns the 1.5 megawatt solar array, is part of the USDA Electric Loan Program, which is designed to help maintain and upgrade the country's electrical infrastructure. The total cost of the project is $3 million.

Diversified Communications, a business-to-business event planning and publications company based in Portland, owns the array, which was installed by ReVision Energy. Diversified will sell the energy to MRRA for up to 25 years, or until MRRA exercises an option to buy the solar generator.

Hobbs said that the investment is part of the USDA's innovative approach to assisting rural communities with infrastructure. The department has made more than $20 million in electric loans in Maine through the program, he said.

The investment in the solar project isn't a typical one for Diversified, said Oakley Dyer, corporate vice president of strategy and corporate development. But he added the company's roots in Maine go back to 1949, and the company is "deeply committed" to energy sustainability."

"This was truly a collaborative approach, with a lot of moving parts," he said.

Gail Kezer, representing U.S. Sen. Angus King, lauded the partnership between the USDA, Diversified, MRRA and ReVision Energy to make the solar project happen.

"It's a key theme," she said. "The USDA could and would step in with a loan where no commercial bank would go."

The USDA's Hobbs also stressed the role the collaboration among all the groups played.

"It would not have been possible without partnerships," he said, including the congressional delegation and the community.

The loan provides competitive low-interest financing from the U.S. Treasury and Federal Financing Bank, with rates that change daily and are more competitive than traditional lending rates, Hobbs said. The program finances the construction of electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities, including system improvement and on-grid and off-grid renewable energy systems.

Changing Maine's energy landscape

Another project that recently benefited from the program is the Fox Islands Electric Co-op on Vinalhaven, which got a $1.5 million loan in November to improve five miles of lines and make other improvements, according to Hobbs.

The Brunswick solar project produces 13.3% of the power used by Brunswick Landing's business and technology campus. Combined with the Village Green Ventures anaerobic digester biogas plant on site, about 75% of the energy on the 105-business site is now generated there.

Fortunat Mueller, cofounder of ReVision, said that 75 years ago, the USDA's electric program centered on bringing electricity to areas that didn't have it. He noted that now Maine and the country are on the verge of changing to a modern energy grid, adding that this type of program holds promise for helping to achieve that in rural areas.

He said by global standards, the Brunswick project and others in Maine may not be "huge," but they are key to helping the rural state and its residents, who often struggle with energy costs.

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